For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. ~Romans 1:20-21
Recently I saw an old photograph of me in high school–for everyone’s sake I have not posted that image–but in the upper corner I saw our “honor pledge.” I reflected on that sentence’s negative impact on my life.
Starting in high school I had to finish every major assignment with these words: “On my honor I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment.”
At Davidson, they expounded that idea and made me write: “I pledge on my honor that I have neither given nor received help on this work, I have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and I am unaware of any violations of the Honor Code by others.”
However, recently I have come to realize that I have been guilty of plagiarism…and discovered true honor in that admittance.
Both of these educational institutions made me overvalue my own intellect and ability. Posted on our classroom walls were reminders that our honor is found solely in our individual capability. Subtly this implied HELP should be a source of shame in our life. In seminary I was troubled by the concept of study groups as it seemed that I should “go it alone” and rely on the help of others. For me, my honor rested in my ability to develop coherent concepts, articulate expressions and whimsical reflections apart from anyone else.
I flourished (if you call a B- flourishing) in these environments because this fostered and fed my idol of control and self-dependency.
The truth is, however, I have been plagiarizing all my life.
To quote Tim Keller:
Paul is saying that we are [all] plagiarists. We take what God has made, and pass it off as our own. We do not acknowledge our dependence on our Creator, but claim to be independent. We prefer the illusion that we can call the shots and decide what is right and wrong…*
You see, the whole time I thought my honor was based on my abilities. I thought my good ideas were my own. I thought the life I had built was through my hard work. I thought the marriage I committed to was due to my wit and charm. I thought my profession was the result of my devotion and dedication to Christ. I thought my physical health was the result of my efforts. I thought the reason I got to wake up in the morning was because I went to bed the night before.
In doing so, I failed to understand that I am completely dependent upon Jesus Christ.
My ideas are not my own if Christ has taken captive my thoughts. My life is the result of God’s intention that I may be a conduit to Him (Acts 17:26). My marriage is a covenant promise not a contractual agreement based on my wit and charm. My body is because I have been wonderfully made by my Creator. And I get to wake up each day because God’s mercies are new each morning.
This is why I try to wrap my sermons with a simple line, “thanks be to God,”
in full acknowledgement that I have nothing really important to say apart from my gratitude to Him.
My real honor is found in those simple words: Thanks be to God.
1 Cor 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
*Tim Keller, Romans 1-7 for You, pg. 27.